Cardiff 2 Burnley 1
Championship, October 6th 2007
Mister I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man
And I believe in a Promised Land.
Finally. The season starts here. After a quartet of deeply unimpressive and frustrating home performances, where Cardiff lost points and lost ground through a combination of tactical naivete, lack of concentration, inexperience and dumb defensive blunders, the team finally secured a well-earned win against Burnley, their first in the league since March 2007.
It was gratifying on a number of levels, none of which had much to do with the quality of the football. It was pleasing to record a fourth home win in four seasons against Burnley, a tough, muscular, physical side who exemplify the kind of ordinary Championship team which seems to proliferate this year; which we traditionally struggle against/are bullied by, and which we will need to start beating consistently if we are to elevate ourselves above the scufflers and reclaim our rightful place amongst the elite of this division. If Burnley could be represented by a single player it would have to be David Unsworth, the grizzled veteran who must surely be the widest player in the Football League.
The pressure was on today and the players responded accordingly. There was little of the sweet, fluent football we have come to treasure in patches over the last couple of years, this was back-to-basics boot camp stuff, a result ground out against the odds, with every player running themselves into the ground and sweating their cobs off.
Above all this was a team performance of discipline and desire, but certain individual contributions need to be recognised. Crazy baldhead Darren Purse was called into the action early doors after Loovens limped off with a muscle strain. Up until that point the central defence had appeared to be coping adequately, but there was no doubt that Purse added strength, stability and composure to the area of the team which had caused most concern over the past few weeks.
Purse plays it hard and plays it simple, he is not one for subtlety, is not as complete a footballer as either Johnson or Loovens, but at this moment in time, the team needs him and he is happy to respond. Today the attacks of the heebeegeebees did not occur whenever the opposition gained free kicks or corners. Organisation at the heart of the defence was noticeably improved, and there were few moments of panic.
Let us also not forget the contribution of Michael Oakes, who was also composed at the back, confidently taking high balls and setting up counter attacks with speedy distribution on a few occasions. Early days yet, but let's hope that the glaringly obvious errors at the back have been drilled to distraction on the training pitch, and are now bearing fruit.
Further upfield, Joe Ledley was rightly awarded Man of The Match, and was again an outstanding performer, operating in a free role at the heart of midfield, but also using the space on the flanks to make penetrating runs and deliver quality balls. Without wishing to mention the dreaded L-word, Joe is currently the Stevie G of this team, the hardest working man in showbiz, systematically hoovering up every blade of grass, the creative fulcrum, a whirlwind of energy, powering forward at every opportunity with a real hunger for goals. He is irreplaceable, and it's quite shocking to think how hard a Cardiff boy has had to work to convince some of the dullards on the terraces of his worth. Perhaps this has been his inspiration - whatever the motivation he is on the top of his game at the moment.
The match itself was a tedious affair, cat-and-mouse stuff in the first half hour as the Bluebirds attempted some decent passing movements to get in and around the Burnley defence. Clarke Carlisle was dominant in the box for Burnley, and pinged away anything over head height. As an attacking force, Burnley relied solely on Robbie Blake, a bright, inventive player who caused problems, and went fairly close with a powerful cross shot on 15 minutes.
Cardiff were close to scoring shortly after, a teasing ball across the face of the ball was inexplicably flicked wide by a wrong-footed Whittingham, a class player who failed to make much of an impression during this match.
The opening goal appropriately featured two of the star performers - a nifty cross from the right from Dazzer and Ledley rose high to propel a fierce header past Kiraly and his famous grey pyjamas. Cue pandemonium, relief and celebratory Bovrils. A few minutes later Ledley almost topped this with a thunderbolt from 35 yards, tipped over spectacularly by Kiraly. All the signs were positive as half time arrived, not quite in the comfort zone, but on the way.
Cotterill threw on his three subs for the start of the second half, replacing Mahon, Lafferty and Unsworth with McCann, Elliott and former Cardiff target Ade Akinbiyi. The Burnley fightback began and the presence of old skool centre forward Akinbiyi would surely test the newly found Zen calm in the Cardiff defence.
Within minutes, the unglamorous reality hit home, as another soppy goal was conceded, Akinbiyi forcing his way through the wet Echo defence and heading easily past Oakes. Not again, came the pantomime cries from the front stalls, as we prepared ourselves for despondency.
Credit to the Bluebirds though, they dug deep, bit harder and got back into a match which was threatening to waft away on the breeze. Another key Cardiff player, Paul Parry, who was again excellent, took the ball from JFH and cut inside a couple of defenders from the right to deliver a terrific shot past Kiraly. Game On (Again)!
The last half hour was tense but not jittery in the same way that we have been counting down previous home games. A puffed-out Fowler was substituted with 25 minutes to go, and Thompson came on to do his usual stuff. Both Fowler and JFH were peripheral presences today, the effects of 5 games in a fortnight having clearly taken its toll. The international break has come at a good time for the old geezers.
As the minutes ticked away, it was pleasing to note how the lessons of the last few weeks appear to have finally been taken to heart. The game was ground down and killed off with a degree of nous and professionalism which has not been present up till now. Keeping possession, taking the ball to the corner, disrupting the game with a late substitution all contributed to Burnley's frustration, and for once it didn't look as if we would be scuppered by a last-minute equaliser.
A poor game, a huge victory and a platform to leap up the table like a pilled-up salmon!
Paul Davies © 2007.
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